At the beginning of the 20th century, when 12-string guitars first appeared in the United States, the instruments were considered novelty items, curiosities, freaks of guitar making that were beneath the dignity of serious companies like Martin and Gibson. But when Blind Willie McTell picked up a Stella 12-string in 1927, and then basically never put it down, the instrument was suddenly legitimized.

A folk singer named Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, had actually made the Stella 12-string his own earlier, in 1912, but Lead Belly had so many scrapes with the law and spent so much time in prison that he wouldn’t get a chance to popularize the ringing tones of the 12-string until the 1930s and ’40s. Even then, his biggest hit, “Good Night Irene,” came after his death in 1949.

Pete Seeger and the Weavers kept the 12-string sound alive until the 1960s, when groups like the Rooftop Singers (“Walk Right In”) made it the go-to instrument on the commercial folk scene. Gibson was ready with its B-45 in 1961 and its B-25 in 1962, while Martin got on board a bit later with its D12-20 in 1964 and D12-35 in 1965.

The loudest noise in 12-strings, though, was made by Rickenbacker, thanks to a custom, one-of-a-kind 12-string version of its 325 hollowbody electric guitar made in 1964 for John Lennon of the Beatles. George Harrison also became a Rickenbacker acolyte, playing his Rickenbacker 360 12-string on songs like "A Hard Day’s Night."

One musician who liked that sound a lot was Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Reportedly, he bought a 360-12 after seeing the movie named after of the famous Beatles song. He went on to play a 12-string on one of the Byrds’ biggest hits, “Turn Turn Turn.”

By the late 1970s, newer companies like Taylor made acoustic 12-strings part of their lines. Once again, a key musician would cement the instrument's sound in our collective soundtrack. In this case it was Neil Young who, while vacationing in Florida, purchased a Taylor 12-string, an 855, at a local music shop. Young liked his 855 so much he ordered a second, and Taylor subsequently gained widespread recognition when Young’s 855 figured prominently in his concert film, "Rust Never Sleeps."


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Recent News: 12 String Guitars

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Children's Museum International Festival features music, dance, crafts ...
Oak Ridge Today, February 8th

Two of the band members have lived in Ireland. Bob Morin, on vocals and 12-string guitar, lived in County Tipperary for several years. Steve Reddick, on vocals, banjo and harmonica, attended college in Cork City. Other band members are Mary Tuskan, on ...Read more

Interview: The Trongate Rum Riots talk music, death and Roman orgies
CommonSpace, February 8th

On one song we wrote, 'Solitude', we used a 12-string guitar to create this creepy Portuguese Fado vibe. We love the exotic feel of Flamenco and things like that as well. I like really old folk music, though; I often try to surmise what the Romans...Read more

Recent skull cinema features
Fairfield Daily Republic, February 8th

In the recording booth behind the huge glass in front of me, Glenn Frey is tuning his 12-string guitar in one corner while David Bowie, Natalie Cole and Maurice White are working on harmony vocals in another. Lemmy Kilmister is taking swigs of Jack...Read more

Wonderful Crazy Night
RollingStone.com, February 5th

Johnstone also chimes in, literally, on "Claw Hammer," brightening its swampy aura with Byrds-like 12-string guitar. In "A Good Heart," John and Burnett turn the pleading in Taupin's lyrics into a Beatlesque spin on Southern soul with a coat of horns...Read more

Thank you, Signe Toly Anderson & Paul Kantner of the Jefferson Airplane
The Seattle Times, February 3rd

Backstage, I met Paul Kantner, who proudly showed me his red Rickenbacker 12-string guitar, which produced such a wonderfully jangly sound, and he explained how he and the band, following Bob Dylan's example, had made the transition from ...Read more

A Smaller 12-string and More from Taylor Guitars at Winter NAMM 2016
Acoustic Guitar, February 1st

Over at Taylor Guitars' roomy suite upstairs from the main floor at NAMM, master luthier Andy Powers sat down with Acoustic Guitar editor Greg Cahill for a chat about a couple of new Taylor 12-strings: He calls the mahogany 562ce “a 12-string guitar...Read more

Kottke lets his playing do the talking
Green Bay Press Gazette, February 1st

Your “6- and 12-String Guitar” album was a major breakthrough for you. What do you remember about composing and recording those songs? What do you remember about yourself? You're right here — what's to remember? With your 1971 debut Capitol ...Read more

NAMM 2016: Reverend Guitars Introduces Airwave 12-String
Guitar World Magazine, January 6th

The bridge is fully intonateable for all 12 strings (independently), chords are always in tune and sound sweeter than you expect. Related Articles. NAMM 2016: Reverend Guitars Upgrades Its Pete Anderson PA-1 HB Model. The wide nut provides spacing for ...Read more